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Asbestos Exposure in Machinists

Those individuals working as machinists had a particularly high risk of asbestos exposure simply because their labor was and still is required in so many industries. For example, a machinist might work in a shipyard – a job site where asbestos was frequently used as an insulator. Machinists are also found in the construction industry, where they could be involved in the erection or maintenance of skyscrapers or other structures. Many tasks undertaken by machinists can put them in contact with asbestos because of the nature of the work site or the tools involved.

Asbestos in the Tools of the Trade

Machinists frequently work closely with tools like lathes, milling machines and machining centers to cut metal parts precisely, whether individually or in large batches. In the past when asbestos was considered something of a miracle material, these machine tools may have contained asbestos that was released during the course of everyday use or during maintenance. Additionally, the use of these tools, when utilized on metal composites containing asbestos or metal coated with an asbestos mixture, may have also released asbestos fibers and asbestos dust into the air. Machinists working in either scenario could have been routinely exposed to asbestos simply by doing their jobs.

Machinists in the Past Were at Greater Risk

Prior to the regulations put into place in the late 1970s and early 1980s that banned asbestos as a construction material because of its causal association with pulmonary disease, machinists were regularly exposed to asbestos in the materials they used, the tools they used, and the factories and plants where they worked.

Because the grinding and shaping necessary to the machining process creates intense friction and heat, asbestos insulation (cloth or paper) was a common wrapping material in the industries that utilized the skills of machinists. Additionally, many machinists wore protective materials made of asbestos to protect themselves from high heat and sparks, and as these became frayed or ripped over time, asbestos fibers escaped into the surrounding air.

Consequently, as these tradespeople worked, it was likely that they were breathing in higher than average quantities of asbestos daily.

The Finishing Process and Asbestos Exposure

After the initial production process utilized by machinists, they are often required to finish the parts they create. In the finishing process, machinists working prior to 1980 may have spent a great deal of time working directly with gaskets and materials that contained asbestos. As they cut and shaped these gaskets and materials, they created asbestos dust that was then inhaled by anyone in the vicinity and brought out of job sites on workers’ hair, skin, and clothing, contributing to secondary exposure in people not directly associated with the construction and manufacturing industries.

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